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Using Waste Heat To Warm Homes


The idea is simple, take ‘waste heat’ from the factories, thermal energy plants, industrial cooling systems, abandoned mines, rivers and the London underground and then pipe it into near by homes.

The excess heat generated in different ways by these can be captured and distribute near by to keep buildings warm. The idea is gaining in popularity with councils across the UK as a way for them to drastically cut carbon emissions and provide heat across the area.

The London Underground Network produces incredible amounts of heat as the trains move around.

The amount of heat generated by the tube in London is well known by those that travel on it. The idea is that now the heat generated by the trains will soon be keeping people and businesses in Islington warm and cosy through the chillier months.

By the end of the year the project will pipe heat from the underground into the homes and businesses above. The idea is part of a growing number of schemes across the country to start using ‘waste heat’ from factories, power plants, rivers and disused mine shafts.

One reason for the step forward in these ideas is that the government has pledged to ban gas-fired boilers from new build houses from 2025. This has caused a flurry of activity to find new sources of renewable heat.

Islington already has schemes using waste energy to heat buildings. They channel heat from the Bunhill Energy Centre, which generates electricity, this heat is sent into council houses, schools and a leisure centre. They are due to expand this project to heat a further 450 homes in the near future.

The tube heating project could be spread across the capital with more boroughs following suite as they realise the benefits of using the cheap, low carbon heat from the underground lines. Another benefit that may come from this is a reduced temperature in the underground networks as the heat is removed.

There are estimates that the waste heat created by the underground is enough to meet 38% of the city’s heating demands. That is huge! The idea that 38% of London could be heated by energy coming from the tube, combining this idea with the other plans could lead to a majority of the city with clean, low carbon heating.

Tim Rotheray, director of the Association for Decentralised Energy believes these heating schemes are a way to help with the climate crisis. He also states ” Almost half the energy used in the UK is for heat, and a third of UK emissions are from heating. With government declaring that we must be carbon neutral within 30 years we need to find a way to take the carbon out of our heating system;”

These ideas are gaining in popularity across the country as councils realise the potential of these schemes to help them provide people with heat and a very effective tool to reduce carbon emissions and help them combat the climate crisis.

“The opportunity that has become clear to the decentralised energy community is the idea of capturing waste heat and putting it to use locally.”

Tim Rotheray

In urban and industrial areas, waste heat is a by product of any cooling system, thermal power plant or heavy industry. The biggest factor and key to harvesting this heat is to distribute and use it locally.

A factory owned by British Sugar is Wissington, Norfolk, pipes the excess heat that it creates from cooking syrup into a neighbouring 18-hectare greenhouse used to grow medical cannabis. It also pumps some of its carbon emissions into the green house to create a carbon heavy environment for the plants to develop better and convert the C02 into oxygen.

Recently Stoke-On-Trent started work on a £52m project to use energy from hot water deposits deep underground. This will allow the water to be naturally heated before it is pumped through the existing network to customers.

The Stoke project is said to be ready by winter of 2020. The council estimates that the scheme will cut carbon emissions by an estimated 12,000 tonnes a year.

Abandoned mines litter the country, many are filled with water which maintains a constant temperature.

A source of energy which lies beneath many British towns and cities comes in the form of water which can hold and retain energy as it is trapped at the bottom of old mines. Engineers in Edinburgh have come up with a plan to create a heat network that uses water found in the enormous disused mines as a giant thermal battery.

They believe the mine water has “massive potential” to help the city achieve its sustainability goals by connecting it to a renewable heating and cooling distribution system.

The mine system beneath the city is at around 500 meters below ground and flooded. The system measures 8km in length by 6km wide.

During the summer months the heat produced by cooling systems and heavy industry could be pumped down into the water where it will gradually raise the temperature of the water. From this during the winter months the water would be pumped to the surface and the ‘low grade’ heat will be extracted in a heat exchanger. The water can then be taken and pumped through a heat pump for heating homes and businesses through out the city.

Engineers in Glasgow have even discovered a heat potential in the River Clyde. The city’s £250m Queen’s Quay regeneration project will use heat pumps to extract heat from the river water before piping it into a 2.5km long network that will pass through 1,400 homes, businesses and public buildings.

It is hoped that it will provide a warm welcome to the 30,000 delegates due to attend the UN climate talks in Glasgow next year.

The fight to reduce carbon emissions across the planet may seem insurmountable but as people bring new ideas to the table and these ideas are shared between us many solutions can be found. Working together and with a combination of programs, projects and ideas we will find a way to achieve what we need to in order to avoid the biggest threats posed by climate change. Reusing ‘waste heat’ is a one of them and will be added to the bigger picture.

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The eco-buyerarchy of needs


If you have ever taken a psychology class then you have probably heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – This looks at the needs that influence our choices and our behaviours. We have taken and adapted it into a simple idea of getting something you’d like but with a few steps to think about before jumping straight in and buying it new.

The Eco-Buyerarchy of Needs

In an environmentally friendly economy going straight out to buy a new item every time is not the answer. Working your way through the Eco-Buyerarchy of Needs will allow you to take a more eco-friendly approach to obtaining it. This image allows you to work your way up the pyramid, working your way from ‘Use What You Have’, through to ‘Buy’ and trying to achieve what you’d like from each section before moving on to the next. The goal in using the Buyerarchy of needs is to minimise our impact on the planet by taking other steps before making that purchase which in most occasions will have the most detrimental effect on the planet.

We will take a look at each section of the pyramid starting from the bottom:

Using What You Have

The most eco-friendly thing you can do is keep using what you have. This base level is where the ideal eco-friendly solution is found. Take a moment and think, is there anything you can use that will help to achieve the same goal or purpose? If you don’t have a crazy amount of stuff surrounding you and you know exactly what you have (easier said than done in modern society) then you can maybe reuse or redesign something to fulfil the new purpose. If not have rummage around! For example if you are thinking of getting some new food storage containers and you have several empty jars that are not being used… can you take those jars and use them as your new storage containers? Perhaps you could repurpose a large old box to become a new storage box? If you know what you have it is of no benefit to you if it is broken and in bad condition, another thing to keep in mind is to look after your possessions – don’t use and abuse them. Taking care of what you already own will allow you to use them for an extended period of time and reduce the impact of having to replace them regularly. Use the food and supplies you already own before you think of getting more.


If something that you already own is broken or breaking can you get it fixed rather than purchasing a new one? You wouldn’t throw your push bike away because it has a flat tyre… you’d repair it. Taking that idea into other items in your life is easy enough. Do you really need a new laptop, are you able to reinstall the operating system and then get everything working like new again? If you can’t do it yourself, can you take it to a shop who can? Older laptops can sometimes work well with a less resource hungry (and safer) operating system such as Linux. Another popular example would be wiping your phone and doing a factory reset so you can renew and extend its life. Often we can keep what we already have if we repair part of it to restore it to its former glory, be it an upgraded hard drive in a computer or a new battery in a mobile phone. Some companies have designed products that cannot be repaired by the end user and either need to be sent to the company or an affiliated shop or thrown away – be sure to avoid buying from companies like this the next time you purchase something.

Borrow or Swap

Another way to minimise your environmental impact is to simply borrow or swap the item you require with someone. This will allow you to fulfil your needs without the energy having been expended in making, creating or purchasing the item. Borrowing from friends or family is a common way but the other most common example would be a library. Schemes for bicycles, scooters and even cars are being used in cities for people who do not need to own one of said items. The idea also works for gardening equipment, tools and all sorts of other useful things that are only needed once in a while.
Is there something that you already own that you could swap for the item you need/ desire? One great site for passing on things you no longer require (and expect nothing in return for) is not so much of a swapping site as a site that allows you offer items or take items for free. There are sites out there such as or that allow you to exchange and trade items you are looking to get rid of for something that someone is looking to do the same with.

Thrifting or Second Hand

This is a form of buying but generally comes in as a far cheaper option than buying new. Thrift or Second Hand Stores generally have quality used items at a much lower price than at retail. If you know you need a new shirt but aren’t fussy about the make then looking through the range of shirts on the second hand shop rack is a great way to get one for a crazy cheap price. People will often donate nearly new items so you can generally find something that will suit your needs. Other ideas such as garage sales and car boot sales are great but will definitely be more hit and miss – although there often seems to be old bikes so its a great place to pick one up. Another huge benefit of purchasing second hand is that the energy that would be used and the environmental impact that would be created has already been done, further from that you are saving an item from being thrown into landfill. You can read more about the benefits of second hand in this article Making a difference through second hand.


Making an item will require time and materials but can be cheaper and fun. Do you have the skill level required to make what you want? Will it be worth it? Can I repurpose an old sweater into a tote bag or make an old t shirt into a baby grow?

Using resources online is a great way to educate yourself on an incredible range of subjects; if you want to do then there is probably a “How to” guide floating around in cyberspace. Making something for yourself can be much more rewarding, personalised and it can also means that no new energy or materials are used to as you can salvage and use materials you already have.


Only if none of the other options are possible from the Buyerarchy of Needs then it may be time to buy. Make sure to find a retailer or a company that is reputable, preferably one where you are able to see their sustainability policy – how do they produce the items? How do they dispose of trash? Do they make sure their items are made of sustainable materials? Are the items repairable and don’t exploit people through out the process? There are many environmentally conscious retailers and manufactures out there, but beware of greenwashing where companies are jumping on the eco bandwagon to turn a profit. You can read more about greenwashing here – What is Greenwashing?

For our average purchases we may only be able to look at a few of these steps but by looking and trying different routes we are able to reduce our footprint and at least for a minimum increase our awareness.